The French, as we all know, are universally law-abiding, thoughtful and polite. Elizabeth Truss, the childcare minister, must have a point: it begins with the discipline instilled in nursery schools.
Forgive my sarcasm. But actually, Ms Truss is not entirely wrong. Forget the behaviour of some French adults, from motorists to waiters. My two daughters spent four years, from two to six years old, in the French nursery system, the École Maternelle. Overall, their experience was excellent. The first three years are devoted to “learning how to learn” – how to behave in a group, how to express yourself clearly, how to “communicate with adults” and how to master the rudiments of writing and reading.
Every child had to kiss the teacher when he or she arrived. Each was summoned by name at going-home time and kissed the teacher before leaving.
My older daughter Clare was once slapped, when she was barely three, for taking off her shoes without permission. But that teacher was later fired for a number of similar offences. Most French children get a good start in life.
However, literacy levels suggest this is often wasted at the primary or middle school.